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  • Written by Margo Rabb
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375848902
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Cures for Heartbreak

Written by Margo RabbAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Margo Rabb


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: August 12, 2008
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-375-84890-2
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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"IF SHE DIES, I'll die," are the words 15-year-old Mia Perlman writes in her journal the night her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Nine days later, Mia's mother is dead, and Mia, her older sister, and her father must find a way to live on in the face of sudden, unfathomable loss. But even in grief, there is the chance for new beginnings in this poignant, funny, and hopeful novel.

From the Hardcover edition.


The Host

The funeral director's name was Manny Musico.

"Is that like a stage name?" my sister, Alex, asked.

"No," he said proudly. "It's real." The gel in his black curls glistened; his teeth sparkled in the artificial light. He was good-looking in a soap opera way and seemed young for his profession.

I leaned over to my sister and whispered, "What a morbid job."

Manny also had supersonic hearing. "A lot of people think so, but it's not morbid at all!" His voice boomed like a Broadway star's; he adjusted his lapels and beamed. I wouldn't have been entirely shocked if spotlights had flicked on, coffins opened up, dancing corpses emerged, and Manny led us all in the opening number of Funeral!, the musical.

"Getting down to business," Manny said, "can I please have the death certificate?"

My father handed it to him and recounted the details about our mother–a sudden death, twelve days after the diagnosis; no, no one expected it; he was sorry too. Forms were filled out. Then Manny invited us to view the coffins.

"She went into the hospital with a stomachache," my dad continued as Manny led us downstairs and along a wood-paneled corridor to the coffin vault.

Manny said, "We've gotten some new models in."

The coffins: luxury models lined with silk, the plain pine box preferred by the Orthodox. My eyes bulged at the prices. A thousand dollars. Two thousand. Four thousand. The caskets had names–Abraham, Eleazar, Moses, Shalom.

"How about the Eleazar?" my father asked. The Eleazar cost $1,699.

"It looks okay," I said. This could not be happening. Oak finish. Satin-lined. "Are we going to get the Star of David on top?"

"I think it costs extra. But what the hell. I think Omi and Opa would want it." Omi and Opa were my mother's parents.

"We don't need the fucking star," my sister growled.

Manny decided to leave us alone with the coffins. "I'll give you some time to decide."

My father examined the finish of the Abraham and said for the fifth time in two days, "We're in a play in which the funeral is the last act," in his usual deadpan tone.

"That's new," Alex snapped. "Did you get that out of a book or something?"

"He can repeat it if he wants to," I said.

She glared at me. "Mia thinks we are in a play–rated triple X. Did you see her this morning?" she asked our father. "She was trying on a slutty dress to wear to the funeral."

"It wasn't a slutty dress." It was a velvet halter dress I'd recently worn to a sweet sixteen. I touched the shiny handle of the $4,000 mahogany Shalom. "It's my only black dress. It's not like I wanted to wear pasties and a G-string."

"I wouldn't be surprised if you did."

"Shut up."

"You shut up."

"You shut up."

"Girls," our father said. "Please. Girls. After this, we'll go shopping."

This was a shock, since he found shopping as enjoyable as setting himself on fire.

Manny poked his head in. "Everything okay?"

"Fine," my father said. "We'll take the Eleazar, with the Star of David." He answered more questions, signed some paperwork, and as we got ready to leave, he told Manny we were off to Bloomingdale's.

"Have fun," Manny called after us.

The Shopping Trip

My father pulled up to a hydrant a block from Bloomingdale's. "I'll wait here, save on parking," he said, and unfurled his beloved New York Times. He handed my sister his credit card like it was a rare gem.

To my mother and me, Bloomingdale's was a spiritual homeland. I worshipped those dresses on the mannequins in the windows, the bright pocketbooks swinging on silver racks, and the gleaming sky-high stilettos. Every time we shopped there, I'd inhale the heady perfumes and sweet chemical scent of brand-new clothes as my mother and I scanned the store for deities (she'd once sighted Marilyn Monroe at the Chanel counter, and I'd seen Molly Ringwald in Shoes on 2.) Then we'd ogle the merchandise.

We'd try not to buy too much (so my father wouldn't kill us), but we'd soon find ourselves happily cascading up the escalator with a big brown bag of on-sale skirts, barrettes, pantyhose, underwear, and of course Estee Lauder products that were accompanied by free gifts. My mother hoarded these free bonuses–lacquered boxes, makeup kits, tote bags, pocket mirrors.

My sister had never been part of our shopping trips. Now I watched her galumph down the aisles in her hiking boots, jeans, and Mets jersey, digging through the racks and making faces at the clothes. Her hair frizzed around her head like a dandelion.

"I'll be in Dresses," I said. I walked over to that section and there I saw it on the sale rack. Cap-sleeved chiffon with an embroidered overlay; I'd tried on this dress two months before with my mother. We hadn't bought it–it was $149–but I'd fallen for this dress. We'd oohed and aahed. We'd held our breath, fingering the embroidery.

I stared at the price tag: $119 on sale. Not much of an improvement.

I eyed the skinny girls with pink backpacks browsing the racks and thought, My mother would want me to have this dress. Maybe she'd left the dress here, in fact, for me to wear. Maybe it was a sign.

I walked over to my sister, who was holding black pants and a matching shirt. "Guess I'll get this," she sighed, as if buying them would cause her physical pain. She stared at the dress draped over my arm. "Is that a scarf?"

"It's a dress."

"It's see-through."

"It's not."

"It's snot?"

I rolled my eyes.

"How much?" she asked.

I shrugged. "Not much."

She lifted the price tag. "One hundred and nineteen? What is that, drachmas? Shekels?"

"I'm getting it," I said.

Her voice rose. "You're not paying a hundred and nineteen dollars for a scarf!"

The customers on line gaped at us. "It's for Mommy's funeral," I said. "I think a nice dress is worth it for Mommy's funeral." As soon as the words were out I wished I hadn't said them. My entire life had become a CBS Sunday Night Movie, and it was only getting worse.

Her eyes flashed. "There's no way we're buying that dress!"

I threw it on the counter. "Fine. Forget it." My throat dried up. I marched off to the escalator.

I rode it down to Hosiery and wandered around the pantyhose. I could run away. Where would I go? Upstate? The wilderness? I imagined riding Metro-North and getting off at the last stop, wherever that was, and starting a new life. Ten minutes later I headed out the main door in the vague direction of Grand Central Station.

Alex was waiting on the sidewalk. I ignored her and hurried up the street.

"Here's your stupid dress," she said from behind me, waving the shopping bag at me. I walked away from her; she caught up. I walked faster; she did too. I started running, and she chased after me; I arrived at the car out of breath, ahead of her.

"I got here first," I said inanely, as if I needed to prove I'd won the pre-funeral foot race, an ancient ceremonial Jewish tradition.

Is God a Comedian from the Borscht Belt?

My mother had told us the diagnosis herself, the first night she was in the hospital. We were all there, my father, Alex, and me, at the foot of my mother's bed, sitting there awkwardly, trying to pretend this was a natural, normal family situation, the four of us hanging around her hospital bed.

"Well." She smiled. "Melanoma."

She shrugged. And smiled again, as if it was amusing, as if she really wanted to say, Ha! Isn't this funny? Cancer. I thought I had a stomachache.

We all sort of smiled then, the four of us with these sick, manic, dumb, painfully goofy smiles, because we didn't know what else to do. It was like a Norman Rockwell painting gone awry–Gee, Mom's got Cancer!–and our frozen, psychotic grins.

Then the four of us went to the solarium, and Alex and I talked about school, grades, Alex's senior-year research paper on isotopes, my new nail polish. A normal conversation, things would be normal. The cancer had metastasized to my mother's liver. "You never know what can happen," a nurse told us later. "Remain hopeful."

I didn't know it that night, but that was the last normal conversation I'd have with my mother. Perhaps this was why I replayed the diagnosis scene so often in my head in the days leading up to the funeral, trying to understand it, to revise it, to make myself say something important, anything.

I'd waited to cry until I'd gotten in bed that night. I cried till I ran out of tears, and then I lay there and could feel my insides churning. I hadn't known that it would be such a tangible, physical pain, yet so much worse than anything that was only physical. My insides churned and churned as if machines were methodically grinding my inner organs to a pulp. I used to think the worst pain I'd ever felt was one summer when I'd slipped on wet leaves in the alley behind our house and broke my arm. Now I wanted to laugh at my own stupidity. I'd thought that had hurt?

From the Hardcover edition.
Margo Rabb

About Margo Rabb

Margo Rabb - Cures for Heartbreak

Photo © Courtesy of the Author

Random House Author Spotlight

About the Author

Margo Rabb is the author of Cures for Heartbreak. Her fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, Seventeen, Best New American Voices, and elsewhere, and has been broadcast on NPR. She received first prizes in the Atlantic Monthly, Zoetrope, and American Fiction contests, and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She grew up in Queens, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter. Visit her online at www.margorabb.com

Ten Ways to Cure a Broken Heart

Cures for Heartbreak is a very personal story for me–Mia, the narrator, loses her mother to cancer days after the diagnosis, just like I did. Its title is intended to be ironic–the epigraph, from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body, is: “You don’t get over it because ‘it’ is the person you loved.” I think it’s true that you never get over a real broken heart. But there are some things that can make you feel a bit better in the meantime, so here’s my list, in no specific order:

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I’ve kept a journal since I was 12, and have written in it nearly every day since I was 17. The one I’m writing in now is the 79th. I guess I think through my black Uniball Deluxe Micro Point pen–I don’t know what I believe until I see it on the page. I love capturing people and places and fleeting experiences, and reading about them again years later, long after I’ve forgotten them.

When I was a kid I used to dream of living in a house made entirely of chocolate chip cookies, and I still don’t think that’s exactly a bad idea. I eat chocolate in some form almost every day, from a dark, dark chocolate bar to brownies or chocolate croissants, chocolate pudding, a cupcake, or a cup of hot cocoa . . . you get the idea. Thank God I have a healthy metabolism or I’d weigh 400 pounds.

One of the best trips I ever took was to Prince Edward Island in Canada, which is the setting of the Anne of Green Gables novels. I traveled there with a friend (Anne would call her my bosom friend) who had fallen in love with the Anne books when she was young, just as I had, and the trip was a kind of pilgrimage. Anne is like a religious figure on the island. Her image adorns everything from license plates to clothing, candy, soap, and dinnerware; even her favorite drink, Raspberry Cordial, is sold at local convenience stores. Being on the island was a chance to see a favorite novel come to life.

I used to live across the street from a Krispy Kreme, which was not such a good thing from the perspective of my arteries. We don’t have one in Brooklyn, but the last time I visited my sister, who lives in Salt Lake City, we drove by a Krispy Kreme that had its “HOT” light on and I screamed, “Stop the car!” The best doughnut I ever ate was one covered in edible flowers, which I bought at Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side. If you’re ever depressed, get thee to Doughnut Plant. If I were not a married woman, I’d be throwing myself at the owner.

Somehow the words “shopping” and “serious writer” do not belong in the same sentence. I doubt that Philip Roth cheers himself up with a stroll in the mall. But I doubt that Philip Roth would ever consider throwing himself at the owner of Doughnut Plant either.

I think it’s impossible to stand in the courtyard of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and feel depressed. You have the Tiffany glass windows on one side, the sculptures in the center, the sun setting in Central Park outside the glass wall–you can’t help but feel transported. There have been many times when I’ve wished I could run away and live there like the sister and brother in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Living in New York City can be both a blessing and a curse–a curse because it’s such a difficult, incredibly expensive place to live, with small apartments and a sorry lack of trees. That said, one of the things I love most about this city is the variety of food available. Where else can you find Shanghai soup dumplings, Malaysian pancakes, three hundred varieties of cheese, crème de marrons crepes, Italian gelato, and matzo ball soup all just a few subway stops away?

As clichéd as it sounds, the happiest single day of my life so far has been my wedding day. This took me completely by surprise, since I’m not a typical wedding-y type person–I never even particularly liked going to weddings, and viewed the planning of my own as a colossal pain in the butt. That day, however, was other-worldly: I can’t think of another day in a person’s life that is wholly dedicated to love, to the leap of faith that it takes to publicly declare your love for another person, to pledge your future together, forever. And to be surrounded by all your loved ones and friends in a beautiful place (not to mention wearing a gown)–it was a pure, unadulterated joy.

My daughter was born in November 2006, and I’m completely head-over-heels in love with her. It’s an entirely different kind of love from anything I’ve ever felt. The word “indescribable” comes to mind–a word choice that should be forbidden for writers–but I’ll chalk my use of it up to the sleep deprivation of having a newborn. Also, I never knew that shopping for someone else could be so much fun. My sister and I have spent hours dressing her up in different outfits and taking photos of each one. Thankfully, she puts up with us.

Books are sacred to me. The books I’ve read have made me who I am; they’ve given voice to things I’ve felt but had never been able to put into words. They’ve helped me decide what I hoped to do and what kind of person I wanted to become. I can’t imagine living my life without The Diary of a Young Girl, I Capture the Castle, The Beggar Maid, The Moons of Jupiter, Tiger Eyes, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Room with a View, and . . . I could go on and list a hundred more. I dreamed of becoming a writer to try to capture some of the magic I feel when I open a book, when I read something that changes my life forever.


Cures for Heartbreak is a sad, funny, smart, endlessly poignant novel. . . . It made me feel grateful for my life, for my family, and above all for the world that brings us gifts like the gift of Margo Rabb.”–Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Cures for Heartbreak is full of sadness, humor, and quirky details that ring completely true. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”–Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep

“Margo Rabb’s ‘World History’ [a chapter in Cures for Heartbreak] is unusual in its depiction of familial tragedy in the context of large-scale horror. . . . [It] beautifully brings together the intensely personal and the historical, and rings with the authenticity of a bitter, yet illuminating truth.”–Joyce Carol Oates

Starred review, School Library Journal, January 1, 2007:
"Black humor, pitch-perfect detail, and compelling characters make this a terrific read, despite the pain that permeates every superbly written page."

Starred review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April 2007:
"This is undeniably a book of anguish, it's also one of raw strength and casual, clever humor in random and surprising places, making it a compelling as well as tearful read."

From the Hardcover edition.

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